​Interest building in Saskatchewan helium drilling

Image: Joey Podlubny/JWN

Regina, Consul — In the very southwest corner of Saskatchewan this summer, Savanna Drilling Rig 629 was in pursuit of a natural gas, but not the one you might think.

No, it wasn’t methane. It was helium, which in addition to filling balloons has a variety of uses including as a coolant for MRI scanners and space vehicles, to provide a protected atmosphere for making fibre optics, and as part of barcode scanners at grocery checkouts, according to the Royal Society of Chemistry.

North American Helium was Inc. was the company responsible for the Saskatchewan well. The drilling was northeast of Consul, just south of Cypress Lake.

Melinda Yurkowski, assistant chief geologist, petroleum geology, with the Saskatchewan Geological Survey, has been working on the geology of helium exploration for several years. Last month she told Pipeline News there are 14 helium wells in Saskatchewan.

Yurkowski said that North American Helium has six wells completed, with one planned and one abandoned. Royal Helium has one well. Weil Group has two wells near Mankota, where the company opened a helium production facility two years ago. Canadian Helium has two wells, and the City of Medicine Hat has one.

Historically, Saskatchewan had helium production in the 1960s and 1970s. But prices dropped in the late 1970s and the bottom dropped out of the market. Oil and gas companies found helium during exploration in the 1950s, and three areas were identified – the Wilhelm, Battle Creek and Mankota structures.

Recently prices and demand for helium began rising again, fuelling interest in Saskatchewan.

“We’ve seen at least 10 wells drilled in the last four to five years,” Yurkowski said. The development is now moving away from those three identified structures.

“I’m continuing to work on it. I did a report in 2016, and I’m hoping to do a new report soon,” she added. She presented her work on helium at the Williston Basin Petroleum Conference in Bismarck, N.D., this May.

Since July 28, 2017, 41 new helium permits have been issued. Put in context, that’s nearly one quarter of the 171 helium permits and leases that are active with the province, most of which are on their primary term.

Yurkowski’s new report focuses on the eastern part of Saskatchewan, having already looked at the southwest corner. She is hoping to release her results in the fall.

— Pipeline News

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